Rethink on 'Church approval'

7th September 2007 at 01:00
NEW PROCEDURES for appointing teachers to Catholic schools are set to be agreed today by Glasgow City Council, to protect the authority from future legal challenge on discrimination grounds.

In future, any teacher appointed to a post in a denominational school will have to receive "Church approval" of their religious belief or character before their appointment can be confirmed.

The move follows decisions at an employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal that an avowed atheist teacher, David McNab, had suffered discrimination by Glasgow City Council when he was not offered an interview for a pastoral care post in a Catholic school. Pastoral care posts, because of their sensitive nature, had been among those "reserved" for teachers with Church approval, under an agreement drawn up in the early 1990s by Strathclyde Regional Council officials and the Catholic Church.

The McNab judgment, however, forced the council to tear up its appointment procedures for denominational schools, because they contravened new anti discrimination legislation passed in 2003. The legal ruling also meant that, under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, any teacher appointed to any post in a denominational school regardless of its "sensitive" nature required Church approval.

Earlier this year, the council suggested that at the stage of a shortlist being drawn up, it would ensure applicants had been approved before any interview.

Now, however, on legal advice, it has shifted its position, saying that it plans to follow normal appointment procedures, up to and including the stage of selecting the best candidate for the job. It would inform the applicant that they had the job, subject to "Church approval". If approval was not granted, another applicant would have to be selected and approval sought.

Gordon Math-eson, executive member for education and social renewal, said that the critical point of the new proposed procedure, from the council's perspective, was that "it separates our role as an employer from the Church's role in approval".

"What we can't do is incorporate any aspect of the approval process into our recruitment and selection procedures otherwise, as employers, we will fall foul of anti-discrimination laws."

The proposal to make approval the last piece of the jigsaw in the process would "hermetically seal" the council from any legal challenge from an appli- cant who had been chosen, but whose approval was withheld by the Roman Catholic Bishops, council officials believe.

Glasgow officials of the Edu-cational Institute of Scotland declined to comment on the proposal until the union's national council completes its deliberations on teacher appointments to Catholic schools. That will be in November.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said that, under current guidance, non-Catholics could seek a reference from their church or another relevant person as to their character and suitability for working in a Catholic school.

A key issue was the appropriateness of the person to the post. Lifestyle issues, such as sexuality, would only be an issue if the person was promoting a point of view that was incompatible with the Catholic ethos, he suggested.

Bailie Matheson stressed: "I am not in the business of undermining Catholic education in Glasgow. We are merely seeking to comply with the applicable laws."

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